Over the weekend firefighters battled a blaze that spread over 11,000 acres. Forest fires are a hot topic, sorry for the pun, here in South Jersey. Today we have a red flag for fires, authorities warning people to be extra cautious to avoid forest fires.

While forest fires can be devastating, they are absolutely essential for the survival of our precious Pine Barrens. The ecosystem is dependent on these fires to thrive.

According to VisitNJ.org, the Pine Barrens cover about 22% of the state which is around 1.1 million acres. The Pine Barrens is a unique ecosystem with its sandy soil and a variety of habitats. Just take a drive through the pygmy forest and you will realize just how unique it is. Every ecosystem needs a certain balance in order for it to survive, the catalyst that provides balance in the Pine Barrens is fire.

Fire could be argued to be the most important element to the Pine Barrens ecosystem. The two pine trees of the Pine Barrens, pitch pine and shortleaf pine, are very much like a phoenix in fire. The flames allow for new growth and to clear space for new pines to grow.

The bark on these pines are much thicker than the other trees, like oaks, that live in this area. This allows most of the pines to survive during a forest fire. Many pines will even sprout new growth from the chard areas of their bark. The flames will erase all of the undergrowth and trees to create space for the new trees.

The pine cones have a unique dispersing system in which the heat from the flames allow the pine cones to open up and disperse the seeds. The forest floor will receive more light with the other plants and trees burned away giving the seeds more sunlight to germinate.

Here in South Jersey controlled burns assist in the need for these fires in the pines and control future forest fires by clearing out the underbrush that catches and spreads the fires quickly. However with that being said, being cautious when enjoying an outdoor fire or flinging a cigarette butt out your window is crucial to not destroying thousands of acres and property.

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